Hi, this is Mitch Hallock, the creator and producer of Terrificon, the Comic-Con at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun! Or the King of the Nerds on local radio, or simply as a guy who has been reading comics for nearly 50 years!
I was asked to contribute some of my thoughts on the latest superhero epic movie, the Zack Snyder cut of…THE JUSTICE LEAGUE MOVIE…A movie that has faced more obstacles than anything the Legion of Doom could have concocted back in their swamp headquarters. Corporate meddling, buyouts, toxic fandom, family tragedy, and even a pesky mustache have all played roles in bringing the epic team of super friendly heroes to the big screen. Ironically, they finally arrived…not once, but twice!
When fans first saw Justice League in 2017, it was a Frankenstein’s monster made by two doctors- the original creator, Zack Snyder, who had directed the initial film, had to leave the project for personal reasons. In his place was Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and The Avengers director, Joss Whedon. But hell, you already knew that if you are a super nerd reading this review…so let’s just cut to the chase.
Folks, get out the big popcorn and a few sticks of butter, we are in it for the long haul as the Snyder Cut has finally been released, and the world will never be the same…or will it? Get ready for a *SPOILER FILLED* reflection on what I just watched.
I had the good fortune of seeing the 4-hour (and 2 minutes) epic in an actual movie theatre, just like the old pre-Covid days. Even better, I got to see it with friends, including legendary comic book writer and artist Jerry Ordway, who is awfully familiar with DC Superheroes having written and drawn many of their adventures over the decades. Plus, me being a “Terrific” comic-con producer for almost a decade, there was so much comic nerd energy in the theatre you could have slain the hordes of Parademons in a blink of an eye.
After years of fans pleading to see what could have been, Warner Bros. decided to pour a reported $70 million into Snyder’s version to complete it and release it onto HBO Max. Zack Snyder’s cut is broken up into six chapters, which makes me think this was intended to be a mini-series on HBO Max to lure subscribers, ala Disney+ with its multitude of Marvel and Star Wars series. But just like the 2017 Justice League movie with too many cooks in the kitchen, the forces that be second-guessed that and made a finished version that has been merged into an epic 4-hour feature film. Did it need to be that long? Not really. If one stripped out several slow-motion music video montages mostly centered around Aquaman, no one would care except probably my wife, who is a huge Momoa fan.
It’s one thing if you are watching this in the comfort of your own home and can stop and start it with the press of a button. But there is no way in hell some of these scenes would have survived if they were trying to do a traditional theatrical release. Even with all the expanded backstory, there are one or two scenes that still bog the action down. Particularly, the Stryker’s Island battle with our heroes first teaming up to battle Steppenwolf. It was clumsy in the Whedon version and is still a hackneyed mess in this expanded cut. Plus, if one removes the scenes setting up a sequel (that will never be) which show our heroes in the post-Apokolptic future, I think this could have been trimmed down to a solid 3 hours, maybe 3 hours and 10 minutes.
After, a quick recap of the events of the “Death of Superman” from Snyder’s Batman v. Superman, we are thrust into a world without Superman. Like the previous 2017 film, we catch up with Bruce Wayne on a quest to assemble an army of heroes to do battle with an enemy that he knows (as we do) is coming from the stars. So much of the first 20-30 minutes seemed just like a recut of the Whedon film (including an awkward group of chanting and shirt sniffing Aquaman fans), I began to wonder what was going to extend this sucker another 3 ½ hours. Luckily, it course-corrected very fast with a reintroduction of Barry Allen aka The Flash, who went from an annoying wannabe hero in the Whedon cut to a more well-rounded and entertaining character. Even better was Ray Fisher’s Cyborg/Victor Stone, underused in the previous attempt, coming to the forefront as one of the true main characters of the film. Next to the resurrection of the Man of Steel, Vic’s story arc is the best part of this version of the Justice League.
The film unfolds like the 2017 version, with the baddie Steppenwolf- told to be a lackey from Apokolips who is trying to get back into the ruler Darkseid’s good graces- is on a quest to find three Mother Boxes. Comic fans know these cosmic MacGuffin’s as catch-all devices created by Jack Kirby in his epic Fourth World/New Gods saga that DC Comics has mined as a source for story fodder for nearly 50 years (Which is amusing to me as DC canceled the titles in the 1970s for low sales but is still making money of Kirby’s creations even on the big screen).
I could go on and make this read like something that would feel like four hours, but as I realize most of the world lives for instant gratification, I will cut to the chase with what did work.
HERE’S THE GOOD:
- Like I mentioned before, the exploration of Cyborg’s relationship with his father, his origin, and acceptance of his new life are the key factors that worked for me and are the highlights of the film. Fisher is a wonderful actor, and you really feel for Vic’s “curse” of being resurrected in a shell of circuits and metal. He didn’t ask to be reborn, but we watch him learning to live with it and even have fun at times in his new role as the reluctant hero. The sequence when he rewards a hard-working single mom of two with some creative bookkeeping is terrific. It’s a real shame the plans for the Cyborg solo film were scrubbed as it would have been great to see.
- In addition, Superman’s resurrection, which plays much like the first version, is also much more rewarding in this cut as the stakes seem higher in the final battle. This happens because of the revelation of Earth’s role in the cosmic odyssey and being a key role in solving Darkseid’s quest for the Anti-Life equation (think Thanos’ quest for the Infinity gauntlet in the Avengers films).
- Steppenwolf is a more formidable foe and comes across as a bigger threat than he did before, plus his CGI look is far better actualized.
- The aesthetic is similar to Snyder’s previous DC films- a muted palette with very little vibrant colors in the heroes’ costumes, it’s all low contrast and kind of grey. This look never made sense to me given the four-color world of the source material, but it’s his vision so I will let it be. It worked for his versions of “300” and “Watchmen” in giving them a dream-like quality, but when it comes to “Justice League” I think it needs to be more dynamic.
- The music, especially the use of the Man of Steel score works well. Though nothing will ever compare the superheroic themes of John Williams’ Superman and Danny Elfman’s Batman, I do enjoy the electric guitar screams of Wonder Woman’s theme when it bursts out of the speakers.
- Speaking of the old Superman films, it was cool to see actor Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen from the Christopher Reeve films) as Officer Jerry. When he greets Amy Adams as Lois with “Good Morning Miss Lane”, the auditory portion of my brain was dusted off and I thought of when he and the late Margot Kidder reported on the streets of Metropolis.
- So glad all the cutesy, jokey scenes that seemed shoe-horned into the 2017 Joss Whedon cut are GONE! That weird Russian family who lived in that desolate, burned-out city – GONE!
The Ben Affleck jokey moments – mostly GONE!
The goofball one-liners – GONE!
- Green Lantern cameo in ancient battle – TERRIFIC!
- Martian Manhunter – TERRIFIC!
- Amber Heard as Mera was far better in this than in Aquaman.
- More screen time for the great Joe Morton as Silas Stone!
HERE’S THE BAD:
Here is what I could live without, and what makes me grateful for my fast-forward button.
- I still hate the bloated, Bat Night Crawler battle sequence.
- The Superman grave-robbing scene is still awkward as hell and out of place.
- The slo-mo Baywatch/Aquaman moments.
- The whole “let’s make Batman’s armored troop carrier fly.” aspect. When Cyborg says several times that the big whale-looking aircraft he keeps talking to wants to fly, I had the weird feeling he wanted to start dating it. Hell, he fixes the Bat Night Crawler tank in mere seconds.
- The exposition of the fight with Darkseid on Earth thousands of years ago still is great looking but Gal Gadot’s narration seems to go on a bit long, and dramatic for a story told to a friend.
- Aquaman throwing an empty glass liquor bottle in the water. Hey man! Kids swim there – who wants to step on that! Jerk!
- Desaad – Yikes, it looked like a lava drooling version of Klytus from 1980’s “Flash Gordon”. I think the CGI could have been better. Or just use an actor as they did with Granny Goodness.
- Lois is pregnant? What was that story element? Where did it go? And when did Clark die, a year before? I was confused on that brief yet extended glance at a pregnancy test in her drawer.
- The look into the future for a sequel that we will never see…how about a comic book adaptation? Someone sit down with Zack Snyder and pick his brain and write and draw it and put it out in comic book form. Heck, my pal Jerry Ordway will gladly do it! Give him a call!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been released, putting an end to all the speculation of what it could have been, as we can now see it in all its extended glory. Is it better than the 2017 film version? Well, it depends. If you are looking for a goofy, no-brainer superhero movie for the kiddies to watch, show them the Joss Whedon version. If you want to see the deep cut, more adult, “serious” version, then nerd out for four hours and watch the Snyder cut! You get it all! Even the kitchen sink! Do we really need it? Well, if you grew up with this stuff for decades like myself… the answer is yes! It makes up for the days of sitting through clunkers like “Supergirl” or “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” it’s like sweet revenge! We always knew these characters and stories were great. They just needed to be treated with respect and care – PLUS a big special effects budget. I heard another viewer say in the lobby after it was over, “I just watched Avengers Endgame and this blew it out of the water”! I replied, “well that’s like comparing baseball to football. They are both sports. Both are played with teams and a ball…but they aren’t the same thing.” DC is a world of GODS! Marvel is a world of schleps who get magical powers! I will always be a Marvel Zombie first and foremost as opposed to being a DC fanatic, but both worlds are cool places to visit from time to time. It’s not a contest in my mind.
To me, it felt like watching M*A*S*H. There is the Robert Altman classic film and then the classic half-hour tv show pilot. They both tell a story of the Korean war with Hawkeye, Trapper, Hot Lips, et al, but they are not the same thing. Both are good in their own special way. Just like this, Joss Whedon made a decent movie, and Zack Snyder made a better version of the same story. Given the expanded time of four hours and more of a budget, Snyder got to tell an epic tale. In the end, it actually became a rare example for fans of getting their cake and being able to eat it too.
I give it a 9/10
Go see it if you love the characters, the genre, or just movies in general!